Bautista flashes leather in AL's All-Star defeat

Bautista flashes leather in AL's All-Star defeat

Bautista flashes leather in AL's All-Star defeat
KANSAS CITY -- A lot has changed since Jose Bautista last had a locker inside the home clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. Asked where his old stall was located eight seasons ago, the Blue Jays slugger glances around, searching the room along with his memory.

"I'm not sure," Bautista said. "They blew this place up, tore down some walls."

Bautista is much different these days, too.

On Tuesday night in Kansas City, Bautista suited up for the American League, manning right field and hitting cleanup for the squad in Major League Baseball's 83rd All-Star Game. In the National League's 8-0 victory, he struck out and drew a walk in his two plate appearances as Toronto's lone All-Star representative.

Bautista also flashed his skill as a defender. In the second inning, Brewers slugger Ryan Braun lofted a pitch from Rangers closer Joe Nathan into shallow right. Bautista sprinted in, extended his glove and made an impressive sliding catch to rob Braun of a base hit and bring an end to the inning.

"Any good play is exciting," Bautista said. "I was glad I was able to come up with that. It kind of stopped their momentum. They just seemed to keep getting hits after hits. So that put an end to the inning there. It was a good play. I felt pretty good about it."

One night earlier, Bautista put his power on display in a runner-up finish to Detroit slugger Prince Fielder in the State Farm Home Run Derby.

This is the player Bautista is now for the Blue Jays.

In 2004, when Bautista bounced between five organizations as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he was simply trying to find his footing in the Majors. It was a game of survival for Bautista, who was slapped with the label of "utility man" as he tried to stick in the big leagues. During that first year, he spent all of 13 games with Kansas City.

"I wasn't playing," Bautista said. "I was just getting a lot of work done in early practice and stuff like that. I was a sponge back then, just trying to soak it all in."

Bautista has since blossomed into a superstar.

The three-time All-Star (Bautista has started for the AL in each of the past two Midsummer Classics) entered this season's annual showcase tied with Texas' Josh Hamilton for the Major League lead with 27 home runs. This, after leading baseball with 43 in 2011, and having a breakout 54-homer showing in '10.

Dating back to the start of the '10 season, Bautista has led baseball with 124 home runs. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols ranks second on that list with 93.

The 54 home runs he launched in '10 were a Blue Jays franchise record for a single season, but some critics wondered if it was a fluke. Bautista, who had just 59 homers from 2004-09, even took on questions about the legitimacy of his path to sudden power production during that magical year.

Bautista has quieted the naysayers with his continued success.

"In my eyes, nothing has changed," Bautista said. "It's just other peoples' perspectives or opinions that have changed. I know where I come from. I know how I do things. So I was never too worried about it. I knew everybody was going to realize eventually that the reason I've had success is because [I altered my swing and approach].

"But it's just more relaxed and better not to have to deal with it now. I don't have to answer those questions on a daily basis anymore."

Before Bautista was Bautista, he was a journeyman looking for a chance.

In December 2003, the Orioles grabbed Bautista in the Rule 5 Draft before later flipping him to Tampa Bay in a June trade. Bautista then went from the Rays to the Royals to the Mets and back to the Pirates, who lost him to Baltimore in the first place.

Bautista smiles when asked for his memories of his brief stint with Kansas City.

"Hot summer," he said. "I had some fun, but I wasn't here long. I was here for a few weeks. I enjoyed it. I got to learn a lot from the coaching staff. They definitely were an influence in what eventually made me the player I am today."

That would be an All-Star player. That is a title Bautista hopes to keep for years to come.

"Once you do it once," Bautista said, "you kind of feel like you can do it again if you just go and take care of business. Your ability is there. If I have good games and I go out and do what I'm capable of doing, there's no reason why I wouldn't want to be here. I'm glad I had a good first half.

"Now it's time to have a strong second half and try to get us to the playoffs."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.